Swollen Finger Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your swollen finger symptoms, including 8 causes & common questions.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 8 Possible Swollen Finger Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. Related Articles
  9. References

Swollen Finger Symptoms

Swelling is the result of fluid buildup that gets trapped in your body's tissues. Most people first notice swelling because the affected body part may appear larger than normal. Often, a swollen finger can be easily identified by comparing its size to the size of your other fingers; however, sometimes the swelling may not be visibly obvious and difficult to discern. Often people with a swollen finger also experience other symptoms in addition to the swelling.

Common accompanying symptoms of a swollen finger

If you're experiencing a swollen finger, it's also likely to experience:

  • Stretched or shiny skin
  • Skin pitting: Skin that dimples or pits after pressing on the affected area for a few seconds.
  • Pain
  • Stiffness or limited range of motion
  • Warmth or redness of the affected area

If you notice any of these swollen finger symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor promptly in order to follow-up on your symptoms, get a diagnosis and receive appropriate care.

Swollen Finger Causes

Any condition that causes accumulation of fluid in the tissues of your finger will cause swelling. Swelling can occur throughout the body due to a variety of causes but swelling in just one finger has a more limited number of triggers. A swollen finger may not seem serious initially, but without prompt medical follow-up and care your symptoms could become worse.

Inflammatory causes

Your finger may be swelling due to inflammatory causes, such as the following.

  • Rheumatologic: This category includes inflammatory conditions involving the body's tissues and joints. Conditions such as arthritis and gout cause inflammation that easily brings fluid into the tissues leading to swelling, redness and tenderness of single fingers and often the big toe [1,2].
  • Infection: Bacteria that is always present on the skin can easily get into the finger via a cut, bite or other puncture. The bacteria will infect the tissues of the finger and cause entrance of fluids into the tissues that result in inflammation, swelling and other associated symptoms. Viral infections can also cause swelling of the finger in people with jobs that require exposure of the finger to body parts such as the mouth (dentists, nurses, healthcare professionals). This condition is known as herpetic whitlow [3].

Environmental causes

Environmental causes of a swollen finger include:

  • Trauma: Trauma to the finger that causes swelling can include simple mishaps such as jamming one's finger on a wall or table to serious accidents that result in broken bones [4].
  • Weather: Sometimes extremely cold or hot weather can trigger swelling in people with pre-existing conditions such as Raynaud's syndrome [5]. Observe for any patterns in your finger swelling and tell your doctor in order to investigate an underlying condition.

8 Possible Swollen Finger Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced swollen finger. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Non-serious finger injury

Finger injuries are very common & rarely need medical treatment.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: recent finger injury, finger pain from an injury, swollen finger, severe finger pain

Symptoms that always occur with non-serious finger injury: recent finger injury

Symptoms that never occur with non-serious finger injury: bent or crooked finger

Urgency: Self-treatment

Dislocated finger

A dislocated finger is the result of one of the bones in the finger being pulled apart or sideways out of alignment. Finger dislocations usually occur when the finger is bent too far backward. Although a common injury, finger dislocations that are not treated properly can result in chr...

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Nail infection (paronychia)

Paronychia is an infection of the skin of the fingers or toes, at the place where the skin folds down to meet the nail.

Acute, or sudden onset, paronychia is caused by the staphylococcus bacteria. The organism can gain entry if the nail is cracked, broken, bitten, or trimmed too closely.

Chronic, or ongoing, paronychia is caused by a fungus. Anyone whose work requires their hands to be wet much of the time is susceptible.

People with diabetes or a weakened immune system are more susceptible to nail infections.

Symptoms include sore, reddened, swollen skin around the nail, sometimes with pus collecting under the skin.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and sometimes skin culture to identify the organism involved.

Treatment for acute paronychia involves having a medical provider clean the wounded nail and drain any infection, and sometimes provide a course of antibiotics.

Treatment for the chronic form involves keeping the skin dry and using an antifungal medication on the affected nail.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: spontaneous finger pain, fingernail pain, fingernail swelling

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Cellulitis

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the deep layers of the skin. It can appear anywhere on the body but is most common on the feet, lower legs, and face.

The condition can develop if Staphylococcus bacteria enter broken skin through a cut, scrape, or existing skin infection such as impetigo or eczema.

Most susceptible are those with a weakened immune system, as from corticosteroids or chemotherapy, or with impaired circulation from diabetes or any vascular disease.

Symptoms arise somewhat gradually and include sore, reddened skin.

If not treated, the infection can become severe, form pus, and destroy the tissue around it. In rare cases, the infection can cause blood poisoning or meningitis.

Symptom of severe pain, fever, cold sweats, and fast heartbeat should be seen immediately by a medical provider.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

Treatment consists of antibiotics, keeping the wound clean, and sometimes surgery to remove any dead tissue. Cellulitis often recurs, so it is important to treat any underlying conditions and improve the immune system with rest and good nutrition.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fever, chills, facial redness, swollen face, face pain

Symptoms that always occur with cellulitis: facial redness, area of skin redness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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Dupuytren disease

Dupuytren Disease, also known as Dupuytren's contracture, is a condition that gradually causes connective tissue (fascia) under the skin of the palm to thicken and become scar-like. Although Dupuytren's isn't painful, it does restrict movement. The thickened tissue forces several fingers - usually the ring and pinky fingers - to curl in toward the palm.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: finger joint stiffness, hand bump, thickened skin on the finger, swollen hands, hand injury

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a condition which causes inflammation of the joints. In most circumstances, psoriatic arthritis presents between the ages of 30 and 50 years and occurs after the manifestation of the symptoms of psoriasis, which is a disease of the skin. Psoriatic arthritis...

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Rheumatoid arthritis

Arthritis is a general term for multiple conditions that cause painful inflammation and stiffness throughout the body. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic condition that is autoimmune in nature, meaning that the body's immune system which normally protects the body by att...

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Boxer's fracture

Boxer's fracture is a term for a fracture of one of fingers and generally occurs after a closed fist makes contact with a hard object.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: finger pain, swollen finger, finger bruise, punched a hard object

Symptoms that always occur with boxer's fracture: finger pain, swollen finger, punched a hard object

Urgency: In-person visit

Swollen Finger Treatments and Relief

At-home treatments for a swollen finger

If you notice a swollen finger after an injury or trauma such as jamming or hitting your finger, start with the following treatments:

  • Rest, ice, and elevate: Put an ice pack on your finger or place your finger in ice water every 15 minutes. (Except for possible Raynaud's Syndrome, see above). Maintain your finger elevated and still to minimize further irritation and prevent continued fluid accumulation in your tissues.
  • Protect: If the pain and swelling persists, you can protect the affected finger from further trauma by attaching it to an adjacent finger using tape or a self-adhesive wrap [6]. The affected finger will be less likely to move which prevents further inflammation and fluid accumulation.

When to see a doctor for a swollen finger

If your swollen finger symptoms persist for a prolonged period and worsen despite not seeming related to a traumatic event, make an appointment with your doctor. Depending on the swollen finger cause your doctor may initiate:

  • Antibiotics: Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics if your swollen finger symptoms are due to a bacterial infection.
  • Rheumatologic medications: There are several types of medications that combat rheumatologic conditions that may be causing your swollen finger. Talk to your doctor to discuss and come to an agreement about the best type of treatment.

When a swollen finger is an emergency

You should seek medical care immediately if:

  • Your finger appears deformed
  • You cannot straighten your finger
  • The area becomes hot and inflamed and you develop a fever.
  • Swelling and pain increases significantly and persists
  • The finger becomes numb and turns white or pink

These symptoms may be related to a more serious cause such as a broken finger resulting in decreased blood flow to the finger and/or hand.

FAQs About Swollen Finger

Here are some frequently asked questions about swollen finger.

Why is the tip of my finger swollen?

Fingertip swelling is usually due to infection or injury. If you jam your fingertip or strike it, you can fracture the bone inside or injure the joint. Infection can also lead to fingertip swelling. Most commonly, this is due to a viral or bacterial infection of the skin folds lining your nail (which is called paronychia) or the tissue of the fingertip itself (which is called felon). Your fingertip may also be infected with herpes, which is called herpetic whitlow.

How do you get an infection out of your finger?

In general, you should consult with a physician for infection of your finger. Treatment of most infections of the finger involve skin care, antibiotics, and warm water or antiseptic soaks. In some cases, the infection may need to be incised and drained.

Why do my fingers swell after I eat?

Your fingers may swell after you eat salty foods. When you eat a lot of salt, your body retains more water than it otherwise would in order to keep its salt concentration within a normal range. This can lead to bloating and swelling in the hands and feet.

Why is my middle finger swollen and painful?

Your middle finger may become swollen and painful due to injury, infection, or inflammatory disease. If you jam or strike your finger, the bones or joints inside might be injured, leading to pain and swelling. Chronic overuse may lead to arthritis. Certain bacterial and viral infections of the bones, joints, or tissue of the finger may also lead to swelling and pain. Autoimmune diseases may also lead to local swelling and pain, as well as diseases such as gout [7].

Why does it hurt to bend my swollen finger?

The body uses pain as a danger signal. When bones or tissues are injured, you experience pain as a warning sign to not use that injured body part for risk of worsening the injury and as a signal to seek treatment prior to permanent damage. Pain or swelling in your finger implies damage to the structures of the finger, usually the bones, joints, or soft tissue.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Swollen Finger

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with cancer?
  • Do you have these contractures that limit the movement of your fingers? (See picture)
  • Do any of your body parts (e.g., toes, hands, ears) feel cold?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

Please take a quiz to find out what might be causing your swollen finger. These questions are also covered.

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Swollen Finger Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced swollen finger have also experienced:

  • 14% Finger Pain
  • 4% Finger Joint Stiffness
  • 3% Pain In The Middle Knuckle Of The Finger

People who have experienced swollen finger were most often matched with:

  • 62% Dislocated Finger
  • 25% Nail Infection (Paronychia)
  • 12% Non-Serious Finger Injury

People who have experienced swollen finger had symptoms persist for:

  • 37% Less than a day
  • 35% Less than a week
  • 13% Over a month

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Swollen Finger Symptom Checker

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References

  1. Freeman G. Inflammation and stiffness: The hallmarks of arthritis. Arthritis Foundation. Arthritis Foundation Link.
  2. Gout and pseudogout. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. Published 2013. ASSH Link.
  3. Betz D, Fane K. Herpetic Whitlow. [Updated 2018 Oct 27]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2018 Jan-. NCBI Link.
  4. Finger fractures. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Updated December 2013. OrthoInfo Link.
  5. The cold truth about Raynaud's. Penn Medicine. Published December 1, 2017. Penn Medicine Link.
  6. Won SH, Lee S, Chung CY, et al. Buddy taping: Is it a safe method for treatment of finger and toe injuries? Clin Orthop Surg. 2014;6(1):26-31. NCBI Link.
  7. Blahd WH Jr, Romito K, Husney A, eds. Finger, hand, and wrist problems, noninjury. University of Michigan: Michigan Medicine. Updated September 23, 2017. UofM Health Link.